School on a budget

Hi everyone! I’m starting school on 7/18 and have started receiving the training materials and prep list for my first day. My loan doesn’t kick in until school starts, but I see I need to buy a headset, kneeboard, pilot bag, and ipad? Ouch! So I need to hear from you all on what I actually need and what I can hold off for a bit until the loan kicks in, or I start earning some money as a working pilot/flight instructor.
I’m really struggling with buying brand new, expensive things when I have no idea how to use any of it, what’s actually good, what will fit me, what I’ll use it for, etc. I’ve tried finding some airline supply stores near me but unfortunately haven’t found any with equipment I can test to know what I’m getting and if it’ll work for me. I wish I didn’t have to buy all of this prior to starting school so I can see what others are using and why, and get better tips for getting the right thing for me. At least get some experience flying before purchasing these things… but… unfortunately that’s not the case.


  • I’ve read a lot of amazing recommendations about Bose A20, how they’re lightweight and you can hear really well, etc. But $1000 right off the bat? What about the $1100 with bluetooth? What is the bluetooth used for? We can’t listen to music while flying, are there are any purposes to this?
    Are there any budget headsets that any of you recommend that still work pretty well? I’ve read also that once you get to the airlines they have headsets available for pilots, but that some still choose to buy their own. If I have to put up the cost, then I will, but if I can avoid it for now, especially when I have zero experience and couldn’t tell any headsets apart, are there any that you recommend? I’ve seen some online for sale that are $200-400 but again, I have no idea what I’m getting and if they’re good or not. For Bose, I’ve seen some that just sit in your ears (which seems they would be super comfortable), instead of the regular headset… but how would I know the difference?


  • I’ve never used an ipad in my life. Also seen some recommendations in here for the ipad pro. But that’s also a lot of money, even if you’re getting it refurbished. I don’t want to get anything too old because then foreflight might not work in just a few years… If any of you have any budget recommendations for ipads to get right now, please let me know

Pilot bag/kneeboard
What are these for? I Have a small backpack I can use to put my headset, water, and my logbook. Do I need to spend $50+ on a pilot bag?
Kneeboard… can I set the ipad under/between my legs? Can I get a magnet ipad holder to sit in the plane somewhere? Some of the kneeboards I’m seeing are $150 plus.


I will let others with more current information chime in here as well, but will add what I know.

There are of course cheaper headsets that will get the job done just fine. You will probably find that you end up upgrading in a few years to a Bose either way, but you can certainly get buy with a cheaper pair. I had some brand I had never heard of and do not remember, they worked well. If you do go the Bose route, you might find the bluetooth convenient for picking up clearances from ATC through your cell phone (on the ground).

I would not cheap out on the iPad, the older those things get, the slower they run the apps that you will need for flying. I would get an up to date, current iPad, but not the grande sized one.

A kneeboard is a flat writing surface that straps onto your knee, you use it to write down clearances and take notes while in flight. Many people attach their iPads to it. You will need to have your iPad secured, in some fashion, under your legs will not work. Everything in a cockpit must be secured.

You will probably find that you want a pilot bag as well, but might not need it right away.

Do not look for an “airline supply store”, look for a pilot store, there is probably one at your local small airport.


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As Chris said, many will eventually update to the Bose A20 Headset; I am looking to upgrade moving forward from a David Clarke. This is a common question about what to start with and/or upgrade to if coming in Credit Private.

For the headset, I use a David Clarke - I’ve enjoyed using them and haven’t had many complaints. Maybe I’m used to it, but some say the David Clarke’s are like “clamps” on your head. I’m looking to upgrade to the Bose A20 shortly. I know that Bose has a 5-year warranty that is pretty good. I believe you can even do installment payments if you don’t want to upfront the costs, I don’t know much about that.

I am a fan of the iPad Mini, it fits perfectly in the airplane since there is limited space, and I can always pinch and zoom in on an airport diagram if need be. Technology changes and so do those iOS updates which slow our devices, you’ll want to get the latest and most recent iPad. You will want to ensure you get the iPad with cellular (even if not activating cellular plan) for the GPS capability.

You will want something to secure your iPad whether it’s a kneeboard or a yoke mount; I’ve come to love my yoke mount in the Archer because of limited space. Some that had kneeboards saw my yoke mount and bought one where they made the comment “this is so much nicer and roomier.” When you’re in the plane next to someone for 1.5 or more hours it tends to get a bit warm even with fresh outside air blowing in, sweat does occur and that kneeboard strap could rub and create a discomforting feel. I have seen some with window mounts, I’m not a fan because it leaves a suction cup mark on the window and I have a bit of a clean side to me where I need to clean the windows every flight. You can also check Amazon for pilot supplies as they do whole-selling for the company.

The flight bag is up to you, there are tons of aviation shops out there like PilotMall, Sporty’s and MyPilotStore that you can get a pilot flight bag. You don’t need anything fancy, stuff to carry your personal documents and flight gear. Amazon probably has some affordable and “do the job” bags.

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Have you explored the idea of adding the cost of materials to your loan? Sounds like the terms might already be set, however, if not look in to doing that. I’m a person that would rather front the cost for the right product from the start than go cheap and end up upgrading and paying for the cost of both. Just depends on your outlook.

If you want to go the cheap route for now, David Clarke headsets have been the gold standards for decades. Can’t go wrong and easier on the budget. If you want to go with the Bose, you won’t be missing out on much without the Bluetooth capability. The noise canceling will become incredibly nice when you get to the instrument phase. Also, you’ll use a headset from zero time through the regionals. You won’t be using “flight deck provided” headsets until the majors. So you’re looking at at least 3000 hours of use over 4+ years.

As for iPad, I’d go with the iPad ATP recommends. I know some of the required apps are only compatible with certain models. I know it must be Cellular capable even if you don’t activate it (Required for GPS tracking). Size is all user preference. I loved the standard 10” because it wasn’t too big for the plane and I could do ground study and preflight prep on it comfortably. The mini is great for the plane but small to use it for anything else.

Kneepad, you can go super simple. I had a literally clipboard with a leg strap and pen holder. It was perfect and simple for the private phase. During instrument when I used my iPad more I got a kneeboard with an iPad holder that only cost me about $30 on Amazon.

Lastly, you don’t need a flight bag right away. You can take some time to figure out how to best organize yourself and all the required items you need on you during all flights (logbook, medical, student pilot cert, photo ID, iPad, flashlight, etc.) A backpack could work initially as long as a proper flight bag isn’t required.


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Hi Juliana,

I couldn’t agree more with the advice provided by @Chris, @Brady and @Hannah.

I absolutely recommend investing in top quality headsets (Bose A20) the first time so that you don’t find yourself in an ironic situation of saving money in the short term, just to spend more in the long term.

As for iPads - the iPad mini is extremely practical and you really don’t need anything larger. As previously mentioned, the cockpit doesn’t allow for much free space - proactively conserve some where you can with just the mini and a kneeboard. One thing I CANNOT attest to (maybe Brady can) is a yoke mount supporting anything other than an iPad mini. My buddy had one that he used on his check ride and the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) was quick to show that when you turned the yoke to the left, it actually restricted the movement which is extremely dangerous. While there were a couple of other things that went wrong, needless to say it set the tone of the check ride and he busted.

When I started the flight program in November 2021, I was provided a flight bag with the books and training material inside. @Brady is this no longer the case for new students? Or perhaps it’s an additional selection when choosing the loan? Regardless, you can just use a normal backpack as that is all that ATP’s flight bag is/was.

Hope this helps!



What I think you’re referring to is the Wanaroam Flite 1.0 “ATP Flight Crew” Bag? I have seen a lot of students bringing in a flight bag that is more handheld that they have purchased from Sporty’s or PilotMall; They like the organization of pockets etc. There are some students that like to use a Jansport backpack (guess they’re in style again, I have mine from college that I use for overnights) and then had a headset bag strictly for their headset. It comes down to preference, I don’t own a pair of Bose A20’s, so I don’t have one of those little fancy headset bags. I use my Dakine ATP Flight Crew backpack I got when I enrolled in 2019. The bags have changed slightly since then.

Anything really works, just want something that you can keep things organization and clean. The last thing you want to do is forget your iPad in the training center or misplace your certificates because they “were just in this pocket a minute ago.”

This link Preparing for your Airline Career Pilot Program / ATP Flight School provides a list of equipment/resources one should have prepared when coming into the program.


Thank you so much for the tips Chris

Thanks Brady. What Yoke mount do you use and how will I know if this will work in the airplane I’ll be flying? Is it easier then just to get the kneeboard? I agree with everything you said that it can get hot and uncomfortable, but not knowing what to expect, it’s hard to say which option will be best.

Thank you so much Hannah. I’ll be looking into getting an Ipad today so I’ll keep an eye out for sizes. I agree that it may be difficult to do much on a mini.
Thanks for the tip on the kneeboard and pilot bag. I’ll get something simple for now and will hold off on the bag until I start and see what I need

Awesome! I’ll just use the backpack atp sent me then to start off with and then will get a pilot bag later on if I feel I need it. Thank you.

You have all really helped me! I decided to go with the bose a20. It costs a lot but it just seems like I’ll be using it so much and over a span of several years that it’ll be worth to have a good headset from the start. Only thing is they’re on backorder on a lot of websites. I’ve checked mypilotstore, sportys, pilot mall, amazon and nothing. I was finally able to find one on the website, but it won’t ship out for another 3 weeks and my start date is on 7/18. Do you guys know if the training facility will let me borrow or even rent a loaner until mine arrives?


Right here is a link to the Yoke Mount I use, remember I use the iPad Mini, so it is different in size compared to others: RAM Claw Yoke Mount for iPad. The only way to tell if an iPad is not right for you or the environment is by trial and error, everyone has their own preference as you see above. Give whichever device and mount you want a try, if it doesn’t work stay within the refund/exchange policy and try something different if it allows. You will definitely be using an iPad your entire career as a student/instructor so find something that fits you.


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I ran into the same issue back when I first started. After spending all that money I bought a cheap DC. I still have it and have used it on a few occasions when I took family flying on my own time. It’s a good idea to carry a spare anyway. I also offered it to prospects during intro flights when I was a CFI.

You can have Admissions call the training center to ask if an instructor is willing to let you borrow a spare. If not, if you are in the Seattle area you can borrow mine.


Hi Tory, YES PLEASE!!!
if you don’t mind. I’m still in Everett today but will start driving to LA tomorrow. Any chance I can pick it up from you today? Or if you could ship it to LA for me if today doesn’t work for you I’ll cover the shipping cost and then I’ll send it back to you once my Bose finally arrives.
I called the local unit and manager yesterday and still waiting to hear back.

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